The Dutch province of South Holland is embracing the circular economy. A good example is the way it is joining forces with regional companies, universities and social organisations in ACCEZ, an ambitious knowledge and innovation programme aimed at making the province more sustainable and climate-proof. Wageningen University & Research is one of the partners in the programme along with Leiden University, TU Delft, Erasmus University Rotterdam and the regional industry.
ACCEZ is focused on issues in which various parties have an interest. One of these projects involves Binckhorst, an urban industrial estate in The Hague which is due to undergo major renovations in the coming years. While the plan is to develop the area as a circular district, urban planner Marleen Buizer from Wageningen University makes clear that this won’t happen automatically: “Circular area development is often associated with technical issues such as materials, resource streams and energy consumption, but it involves much more than that. The trick is to integrate existing and new ideas so they provide added value to the area on aspects such as social relations and networks, and to ensure they are truly supported by the different players.”
From local hops production to circular construction
The ‘circular energy’ is high in Binckhorst. It already features small-scale hops production for brewing local quality beers, and a large building company wants to develop real estate entirely from circular materials. “We’re not starting with an empty slate,” continues Buizer. “Our intention is to work with all the players in the area to build on and further develop our shared values. We then aim to develop plans for circular area development together via action research. In addition to circular construction, this would also mean cohesion with other circular initiatives in the district.”
The Green Heart is another focal area of ACCEZ. The peat soil in this typically Dutch landscape has been subsiding gradually over the centuries, causing more and more problems. It is time for a structural solution says Theo Vogelzang, scientist at Wageningen Economic Research: “Many forums have been considering the issue. The good thing about ACCEZ is that we look at the contribution which can be made by the natural capital itself in order to develop a climate-proof area that contributes to the circular economy. For example, we examine ways the land could be used without reorganising the entire agricultural system. This could involve the addition of wet cultivation in the wetter parts of fields which would immediately prevent further subsidence.”
Legislation is also being re-examined, says Vogelzang: “We are increasingly finding that the legislation is significantly impeding the recycling of raw materials. There is a company that aims to combat soil subsidence by applying organic waste materials to the land, for instance. Legally this is not allowed. We are researching which measures should be taken in the legislation to make it easier for parties to market these types of innovation.”
Engines of change
Like his colleague Marleen Buizer, Theo Vogelzang also believes in the power to change of people who are interconnected and the fact that social organisations can play an important part in this regard: “A foundation like Beschermers Amstelland [Protectors of Amstelland – ed.] is very successful in involving other regional players in the Amstelland area and jointly determining what is needed for its sustainable development. And in the Alblasserwaard area, a regional dairy cooperation is looking to market a ‘delicacy cheese’, the production of which takes into account the natural capital in the region and subsidence prevention. ACCEZ will connect these engines of change, and we welcome all who can help.”